Repairing the Chapel

July 4, 2009

Reparing the Chapel


Repairing the Chapel

The chapel has taken damage in the winter turning to spring.

Ivy has forced the two window lights away from the back wall

and the thaw has rotted some wood along the casement.

It’s not my chapel; no chapel genuinely belongs to anyone.

Ownership is merely the responsibility of maintenance.

Like owning anything beautiful,

my job is to preserve it and pass it on

for the next unknown temporary owner.

Increasingly maintenance of churches,

like so many wonderous structures, is a choice for society everywhere

(I found nearly 4,000,000 hits on Goggle search “abandoned churches”).

It’s nearly a famous cliché, a self-criticizing ethical criticism.

Why spend resources on a building that does nothing,

when there are starving people in…?

But a more fundamental question is lost in the deflection

of allocation of religious resources to those most needy.

Why does anyone need a chapel at all?


There are hundreds of religions and hundreds more

sects and sub-sects arguing within those beliefs. Our collective

knowledge of the divine is by turns cosmic, petty and confounding.

There are magnificent mosques, basilicas, synagogues, padodas,

shrines and temples—sacred architecture abandoned by cultures

that have left this earth for places unknown.

Mega-churches are built on the scale of sports arenas.

as well as hundreds of thousands of nondescript churches and assemblies

where sincere congregations meet in their fellowships of worship.


But a wayward chapel is something both personal and abandoned

in hope that it will find its way into the right hands.

What starts as a random real estate transaction develops

dimensions of communion I would generally reserve

for translating poetry or interpreting art.

With the exception that it isn’t academic—it’s purer labor.

Someone wanted me to repair the window.

Someone wanted to touch my hand,

or more to touch their hand.


Repairing the chapel window has asked me to an open commitment.

It doesn’t speak, but asks in the language of aloneness.

I’m no tourist here. I am here. I am. I.


There’s no one in the whitewashed room, but I’m not alone.


Through my life I’ve visited chapels.

In Canada after arduous travel I heard the Madonna

House Community sing vespers in a sobornost house

 imitating a Russian pilgrims retreat. The nave was barely

forty degrees, vapor poured from the casual choir.

Tears flowed, I met a saint, ate in the etiquette of silence

and washed dishes with aged nuns. There’s a small chapel

in Kentucky where I listened to a beautiful young woman

play Shubert as the sun set. Then she walked out in the late spring

evening and kissed me for a long time.

I spent a half hour in Beethoven’s chapel.

There’s a chapel in Tzintzuntzan where I watched a crucified man

suffer next to a naked fluorescent tube hanging from a ceiling.

Since I was ten I’ve made trips to nondescript Calvary

Cemetery Chapel to observe a sad parade of priests

bury my family. I stood in line to retrieve miraculous dirt

at Chimayo. I mention these chapels, because they were

filled with astonishing events.


This chapel is like the empty bowl of my soul.


I know a poet who resurrected a lost rose garden.

In my imagination I dreamed of him touching the earth

that unknowns had touched, hand digging through the loam

 to Rilke’s Roses. 

One poet tries a simple and physical connection

to another poet who wasn’t there. So it is in the chapel,

a connection to a someone who isn’t there…a quieter

whispering, not rational and not effusively emotional,

—different than the rituals of religion.


I prime the wood and hear my Grandfather’s voice

reminding me a brush is made to spread paint and not leave

a brushstroke.  He was a patient perfectionist.

In the chapel repairs I sense a similar inventive patience.

Myopically I prime the window frame.

I go on working a coat just beneath the surface;

to restore the surface—as the someone who came before me

must have looked on in tired wonder

at the slow progress of keeping a chapel the same.


Summer of LoveSince May I’ve been touring Hank William’s “Lone Highway” actually—Georgiana, Montgomery, Alabama—and not quite making it to Canton. I don’t know why, just one of those intuitive coincidences I can’t explain, but feel might lead to something. Earlier this month I met my cousin, Vince, at the Rock’n Roll Hall of Fame in lieu of driving to Loraine, OH to the Polka Hall of Fame. The Rock Gods Hall itself is creepy, like Madame Toussand’s without heads.  It’s celebrating the 40th anniversary of the Summer of Love with exhibitions of stylish ghosts. I bought a commemorative key chain to help to help with our séance. We sauntered through Jimi Hendrix’s closet, paused and listened at the display of a Vocalion 78 of Robert Johnson and I saw my sixth or seventh pair of hand tooled boots alleged to be owned by Hank Williams. In the past I’ve stumbled past Electric Ladyland Studios and spent an afternoon driving around between Greenville and Rolling Forks looking in vain for Robert Johnson’s grave. So the Hank Williams tour of C&W attire seemed no stranger than visiting Keats House in Wentworth, Les Deux Maggots, or Ezra Pound’s grave in San Michele, it’s something I do…one of my ways of being in the world.  But the Cleveland Hall of Fame is almost seedy, like seeing the back of the carnival—everything looks cheaper and disproportionately small. Vince is considerably younger than me, but for the most part he was patient with my meandering through the fool’s golden age of rock. He didn’t care much about Jim Morrison’s leather pants, Brian Jones’ caftan or John Lennon’s handwriting. He asked me how crazy it was at Woodstock and seemed politely appalled at the psychedelic sense of fashion. We walked by the Michael Jackson mannequin already encased, like everything else there, in its special version of spot lit amber. Vince knew a lot about Motown (He knows a lot about a lot of things) and we had a passing argument about what the Sound of Young America symbolized and what Barry Gordy meant to the industry of music. We conjectured about what record producers, disc jockeys and executives had to do with the deep fundamental pelvic grab of Rock ’n Roll. Just asking questions that we felt might make the price of admission seem less steep. Probably the most prescient question we discussed was “If he’s the King of Pop…have you ever seen Michael Jackson or know anybody who has?” It took a week before we found someone we knew who had. And that included my daughter’s stepbrother, Travis who seems to have seen everyone in concert. Michael Jackson was a recluse in our collective memory before he was lost in Neverland.  Until suddenly, his heart stopped…

Our new cyber culture was electrified with a celebratory spirit like a drunken Greek chorus. Philippine Prisoners forced to practice reenacting their “Thriller” reenactments for hours. A friend sends me pictures of a memorial video dance at the Alamo Draft House in Austin. Anyone can watch versions of these flash mobs appearing on YouTube dispersed all over the world…collective mind appearting to raise a voice resembling passion with no purpose, but genuine frenzy.   Electronically there are thousands of living voices singsonging along “Billie Jean is not my lover”. There’s wild rush from work to the streets or bars with beers and camera phones in hand photographing themselves dancing in imitation of the creature who only yesterday was derided as Jacko.    

 I imagine Greece in it’s mythopoetic glory, when sleepy eyed Dionysus led the dance and the drunken wild Maenads tore Orpheus head from shoulders and Oedipus put out his own eyes.  Michael Jackson was like a character Sophocles might have written—punished not for his alleged pedophilia (like Orpheus) or eccentricities in parenting (like Oedipus), but for trying to outlive his youth.  Hubris is the tragic crime and punishment. What most separates the least recognized god from the most popular king on earth, is the god will never grow old. Dionysus disappears and returns in a hundred disguises, but always a form of a strangely beautiful youth. The King of Pop inflicted monstrous plastic masks of youth on himself trying to delay the departure of his Dionysian daemon. Like Oedipus his machinations to escape his fate turned cruelly ironic—he became inspiration for his chorus’ judgment by gossip. Jacko weds Bubbles, hyperbolic chambers…dangles baby Prince.

Now the chorus is laughing and screaming, running nowhere in particular just like the mob that dispersed Orpheus leaving only his lyre still echoing its master’s songs. Like so many of  my psychopomps Elvis, Hank Williams, Sylvia Plath, Garcia-Lorca, Byron, Marilyn Monroe, Keats, Robert Johnson, Jimi Hendrix—gods grant mortals divine gifts only for a time, then they toss them into a wind coming out of the mouths of the mob celebrating their death like a summer festival.

 “…golden. …stardust and caught in the Devil’s bargain.”                                                                                                        “Woodstock” Joni Mitchell

Myopic Travels

June 23, 2009


Clovis, New Mexico

Crossing deserts, even high plain deserts in a car,
is still a spiritual experience. Yesterday traveling
stretched plateau landscape sometimes a world
so flat to see unobstructed horizon all directions.
Cloudscape a few hundred feet over me casual
drizzle, or sudden wind gusted rain oil slickening
the highway permits few distractions, the engine
straining long climbs past Santa Rosa. The last
section of highway I-40 to ABQ the worst. Road
shifts from four lane to broken lane construction
crowding the steep and curvy approach to the city.
No speeding, no passing, downhill trucks roiling
towards you. Then miraculously it changes, as if
I’d climbed out of a hole. I drive through town on
San Mateo Blvd. miles of one plaza—tire stores,
tattoo parlors, rock shops, Mexican restaurants,
massage parlors, Hooters, Pier One, Starbucks,
boot stores, tax prep, Wendy’s, custom made
leather, auto parts, fast check cashing, moccasin
and artifact shops, Ross, dry cleaners, McDonald’s,
and a boot and western wear barn. Finally I locate
the right to Whole Foods. There I go from speaking
to no one for hours to constant collisions and apologies
to and from shoppers wandering through their lists.
For me it should be simple, the same things I get
at the grocery any weekend. Do I have enough onions?
Do I like the look of that fish? Should I get wine
in case guests arrive? But I have to fight back
the urge to talk to people uninvited. I don’t want to
be the creepy super market guy—

Then the last 40 miles to the house—

ABQ fades in my rearview mirror as I get over
the top of the Rio Rancho hill on Rt.550 orange
mesas and the lavender Jemez Mountains, then turn
at San Ysidro and the Jemez River Valley of small
farms and Cottonwood trees. I pass above Jemez
Reservation, not western romantic and a speed trap
at 30 mph,without mercy for outsiders. Always a dog
or two wandering from there to somewhere else,
a cloud of yellow dust rising from activity; it knows
it’s own charm. Then I descend to round red rocks
the road still winding alongside the river. West-
side cliff faces rise to mesa tops. I drift into Jemez
Springs at 25mph (speed trap). A clutch of bikers
hanging around at Los Ojos, the cowboy bar. But
they’re not real bikers anymore, pleasant dress up,
a pageant so they can ride the same road in and out
of their dreams too. Just past the curve at Soda Dam
I turn at Redondo and toss up dirt and slide and rattle
up the rough graded road. All I can do is keep going
slower until I get to the top of the road. I look down
to see the valley, or look right and up to the house.
There are weeds all over the drive I worked so hard
to clear last summer…but I can’t care. I’m here.
I open all the windows, drag bags out of the car and start
putting away and finding and losing things. Around five
I start to saute zucchini for dinner. The telephone rings,
“Yes I’m here”. The wireless router doesn’t work right.
The television doesn’t work at all. The radio has periodic
static, but the DJ’s playing recordings of Van Morrison
live years ago, and happily there’s nothing left to do
but listen to Van’s plaintive searching for his soul
and invisible birds singing along out in the dark.
Then I don’t need Van. It’s just birds and the occasional
hum of the refrigerator. A sleigh bed surrounded by open
windows. I’m so tired I don’t want to go to sleep, not yet.
So lovely buried under the blankets, surrounded by white
silent arms of pillows…what dream could bring dreams
better than this gentle ceasing?